At the Bon Jovi concert last Saturday night at the United Center, there was the inevitable moment when the crowd rose as one and did the over-the-head arm-clapping. Looking over the audience, I noted the same thing that struck me at the U2 concert at the United Center in September.
The utter whiteness of the crowd.
I know: it hardly comes as a shock that Caucasians are the primary fan base for these two groups. The next time I see a black man driving by with the windows rolled down and “Livin’ On a Prayer” cranking on the stereo will be the first time I witness such a phenomenon.
But when I say the crowds were white, I mean they were WHITE. When the house lights went up and the above-the-head clapping started, it looked like a “Friends”reunion times 4,000. I saw more people of color when Simon & Garfunkel played the United Center.
African-American artists from Stevie Wonder to Prince to 50 Cent have huge crossover appeal, but there have always been certain white acts, from the Beach Boys to Led Zeppelin to Bruce Springsteen, who sell millions upon millions of albums but never seem to cross that bridge.
Surely, though, there must have been some people of color at either the U2 or Bon Jovi concerts. There must be some minorities who have “Have a Nice Day” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” on their iPods.
If so, I’d like to hear from you.
I used to think there were maybe 14 or 15 nonwhite fans of U2 and/or Bon Jovi—but there are at least 137, based on the e-mails and calls I received after my item about the overwhelmingly white crowds at the U2 and Bon Jovi concerts in Chicago this year.
Paul Hollins, 39, told me, “I laughed out loud when I read your column. I am a black male who happens to have ‘Have a Nice Day’ on my iPod. It is kind of weird for me going to certain concerts and feeling like I am the only black person there. [Recently] I drove out to Joliet to see Olivia Newton-John.”
Pier de Lourdes Frost, a married African-American mother of four from Evanston, provided some insight about why minority fans of white groups might not attend concerts.
“I listen to Bon Jovi as well as U2. I not only have their music blasting out of my minivan, I also own a couple of their CDs. But I wouldn’t be caught dead at one of their concerts.
“I would really, really, really love to go. I would also love to see my boys Staind, Linkin Park, Green Day, Disturbed, Nickelback, Korn, or even Metallica. I’m truly a Rocker Babe. But I don’t think I’d feel very comfortable in that sea of whiteness you described. Truth is, I’m not altogether certain that I would be entirely welcomed or safe at some of those venues.”
I’d like to think that we’d all be united by our shared fandom of an artist and we wouldn’t care if the person next to us jamming to “Vertigo” was white, black or green. (Well, maybe green would be a bit unsettling.) But I did hear from a handful of minorities who said they’ve been verbally abused at rock concerts—and some whites who experienced similar treatment at hip-hop shows. I don’t believe this happens often—but of course it should never happen. If you’re at a U2 concert and you have a problem with someone’s race, you’re really not listening to Bono at all, are you?
I like the philosophy of Desmond Dozier of Lincoln Park, who wrote: “I am a 34-year-old black man and I am a HUGE fan of U2. I was at the United Center for their shows on May 10 and Sept. 20. I have been always attracted to music that moves me in some way and I for one can never get enough of Bono’s ‘preaching.’
“I have never understood why it is more socially acceptable for whites to be fans of ‘black music’ than it is for a black person to be a fan of so called ‘white music.’ It is a shame that many black people seem to close their minds to music that is made by whites, and it is ironic because rock ‘n’ roll would not even exist without the influence of musicians like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. So in a sense, rock music is black music.”
“A U2 concert is all about enjoying yourself and the music. Whether you are black, white, yellow or whatever all that matters is that you had a good time.”